There was a time when we didn’t think about the amount of plastic we consumed with our grocery shopping. We showed up each week and filled our carts without paying attention to additional (and unnecessary) packaging, and then went through the cash and requested plastic bags. For many of us, we were surprised when stores began charging for the use of plastic bags, and maybe even a little reluctant to the change.
Now that we know about the devastating environmental impact of single-use plastics, we’ve made our peace with reusable bags. And don’t get me wrong, it was an impactful change to make. But how many single-use plastics remain in our carts each week? And how hard would it be for us to cut back?
The following are a few simple things you can do to reduce your plastic consumption at the grocery store. Yes, it will require a little extra effort in the beginning, but you’ll be surprised at how quickly they become regular habits!
#1. Shop In Season
Shopping produce that is in season reduces the carbon emissions for the transport but will also most likely show up in your grocery store package-less. For example, Quebec-grown strawberries in the summertime which come in cardboard boxes. In the winter, strawberries arrive from southern states in plastic containers.
#2. Shop Bulk Stores
In Canada we have stores that focus on local zero-waste products in bulk. Some examples in Quebec are Épicerie LOCO and Espace Organique. These stores can be very expensive because they also focus on having organic products available, and is therefore not accessible to the majority of the population. Bulk Barn doesn’t sell organic options, but they have large variety of products including flour for any kind of baking, spices of all varieties, and lots of different sweets including chocolate covered almonds and name brands like Oh Henry and Kit Kat bars.
Shopping at bulk stores like these can save so much packaging waste.
#3. Bring Your Reusable Bags
When you shop for produce, bring your cotton or net reusable produce bags. Cotton produce bags last long time and can be repaired if they rip or wear thin. They can also be washed in the washing machine when needed. When the bags have been used to their limit, they can be recycled in a fabric recycling plant or composted.
#4. Shop Local
It is guaranteed that you have amazing local bakeries, farms, butchers etc. in your area. There is so much to gain from shopping local.
Meat is often packaged on a Styrofoam plate and wrapped in plastic. Styrofoam does not break down whatsoever and lives on forever in landfills. By shopping at a local butcher, they will give you the cuts of meat exactly the way you want and will allow you to use your own containers.
Farmers markets are a zero-waste heaven. Everything is fresh, directly from the farm, straight to your plate. Like in grocery stores, your reusable produce bags, grocery bags, and containers are perfect for farmers markets.
Buying fresh bread from the bakery also allows you to use your own packaging or accept paper bags when you forget to bring your own. Plus, how delicious is fresh bread?!
#5. Making Your Favourites
I don’t like cooking. Prior to my family transitioning to low-waste, dinners were always difficult for me. I would often resort to store-bought frozen foods. But these foods ALWAYS have some form of plastic packaging, and there’s no way of reducing it other than not buying them.
Admittedly, this step was the most difficult in our transition as it required meal planning ahead of time (which isn’t easy some weeks). But over time, this has given the family the opportunity to do something together. We make homemade chicken nuggets and pizza in bulk and stick it in the freezer for the days when cooking and being creative just aren’t happening.
The kids agree that these homemade options taste better than the frozen options I used to buy, and they are plastic-free.
Strive for progress, not perfection
Becoming a zero-waste household isn’t going to happen overnight, and it won’t be without effort. But please don’t think that you have to change everything right away, at the same time. We all lead busy lives, and we are all human. If you pick only one of the five suggestions above and commit to it, you will have made a significant difference.
After all, 3 plastic produce bags per week for one consumer is 156 plastic bags in a single year, and 1560 bags in 10 years. Even if all you do is change to reusable produce bags, that’s a big deal! You don’t have to be perfect to protect the environment, you just have to care enough to try.
Amanda Busner is the Founder of Clear the Ocean, a non profit that raises money in support of the global efforts to clean up our oceans. She is part of the Cook.Eat.Live.Happy community and a guest author on the CELH blog!